Anti-nuclear movement

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The term anti-nuclear movement refers to a loosely connected, international community of organizations and individuals that oppose the use of nuclear technology. Nuclear power, nuclear weaponry, nuclear-related research, and food irradiation are the subjects most frequently protested.



Scientists involved in the Manhattan Project were the first to raise cautionary notes about the use of nuclear reactions, and their first goal was nuclear disarmament. This version of the movement organized protests against the nuclear arms race conducted during the Cold War, and eventually saw some success in the adoption of arms reduction and test ban treaties.[1] This branch of the movement is still active, but has arguably lost importance after the end of the nuclear standoff and the reduction of active arsenals.

From the late 1970s onwards, another distinct branch of the movement that opposed the usage of civilian nuclear technology (e.g., energy generation) gathered significant public support in Western Europe and the United States.[2] These activists are mostly concerned about the dangers of nuclear power production such as the risk of reactor meltdowns, radiation release and the long-term problem of nuclear waste disposal. It received significant international attention and increased support after events like the Three Mile Island accident in the US in 1979, the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and the meltdown of the Fukushima reactors in 2011.

Support for the movement's objectives considerably differs between the general public and the scientific community,[3] with energy experts being significantly more pro-nuclear than the public.[4] However, some scientists do support the movement.[5]


Anti-nuclear groups routinely protest activities related to nuclear power. Such protest is generally peaceful and includes maintaining websites, organizing rallies and marches, and publishing books, articles and brochures on the subject.

Some anti-nuclear groups have conducted actions that, while not compromising nuclear safety, were disruptive and/or illegal. It should be emphasized that such actions are exceptions, rather than the norm. Examples include:

  • Trespassing on nuclear power plant grounds in order to paint slogans on cooling towers, assaulting security guards in the process[6]
  • Sabotaging railroad tracks used for the transport of nuclear materials[7]
  • In one case, firing rockets at a reactor under construction[8]

Hundreds of thousands of people have attended anti-nuclear protests and demonstrations, such as in Bilbao, Spain, 1977, and New York City, 1979. 1,414 people were arrested in Seabrook, NH while protesting the construction of a power plant.


There are a number of arguments used by anti-nuclear activists which address the problem of nuclear waste, health effects of radiation, government policies and the financial viability of nuclear power.[more detail please] In the opinion of the activists,[who?] such arguments indicate that people should abandon the use of nuclear energy in order to protect the environment, avert major disasters, and save money. Some of these points have factual problems.[please explain] While the more rational arguments should be carefully considered, and the outcome may suggest that a different source of energy should be prioritized in a given country, none of them warrant unconditionally banning nuclear power or phasing it out prematurely.[citation needed]

Effects of the movement

In a number of countries, the movement has attracted enough popular support to stop the further development of nuclear energy.[9]Many Western countries stopped building new plants after the Chernobyl desaster, and in places like Germany, where the movement has majority support,[more detail please] nuclear power is to be gradually phased out as the newest plants reach the end of their lifespan. The biggest success of the movement is successful lobbying to impose stiff regulations and additional safety measures on utility outfits and plant constructors. Some would argue[who?] this is a symptom of nuclear exceptionalism. Public trust in government and nuclear industry information has also eroded, as anti-nuclear activists and whistleblowers have called attention to cover-ups.[citation needed]

The larger effect of the trend toward ever stricter control of radioactive materials is that any substantial use of them requires many formalities. This acts as an economic deterrent and results in a preference toward non-nuclear technologies, which, coupled with the removal of subsidies, caused the progress of nuclear research to dramatically slow down since the 70s.[citation needed]

While the movement is rarely successful in shutting down existing power plants (though it has happened[10]), it has been quite effective in preventing new plants from being built.[citation needed] Nuclear energy proponents argue[who?] this exacerbates global warming, in that when new baseload demand cannot be provided by nuclear power, new coal and natural gas power plants are built — not wind or solar systems as anti-nuclear and environmentalist groups would usually prefer.

Notable anti-nuclear groups and people

The list is limited to opponents of non-violent use of nuclear energy. There are many more groups which campaign mainly or exclusively in favor of nuclear disarmament.


  • Bellona Foundation (?)
  • Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
  • Friends of Earth
  • Greenpeace
  • International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
  • National Resources Defence Council
  • Nuclear Information and Resource Service
  • Rocky Mountain Institute
  • Sierra Club
  • Sortir du nucléaire
  • Union of Concerned Scientists
  • World Wildlife Fund, aka World Wide Fund for Nature


Previously anti-nuclear

The change in his positions is drastic enough that most members of Greenpeace consider him a shill.[citation needed]
  • Stephen Tindale, former director of Greenpeace[14]


  1. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is not actually in force, but breaking its terms by any country would cause a big fuss.
  2. Science Encyclopedia: Antinuclear movement
  4. - a survey from 1980, just after TMI, shows that 95% of energy experts and 100% of nuclear experts supported the development of nuclear energy.
  5. Many members of Union of Concerned Scientists are bona fide scientists.
  6. Greenpeace Fanatics Assault Officers at Cofrentes Nuclear Power Plant
  7. RIA Novosti - Greenpeace rips up rails to stop nuclear waste shipment to Russia - note that the shipment did not actually contain nuclear waste (spent fuel), but depleted uranium hexafluoride, which would be re-enriched to produce additional nuclear fuel.
  8. Super Phénix Unscathed in Rocket Attack, Science, February 1982, 641
  9. CS Monitor, "Germany to phase out nuclear power"
  10. e.g. w:Superphénix
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